August 2000, Crying in Church, and My Personal Saturday

Philip Yancey, in his book Disappointment with God, says that Good Friday, Saturday, and Easter Sunday, represent “the three day pattern- tragedy, darkness, triumph-… (that) can be applied to all our times of testing.” There is the unthinkable loss and tragedy of Friday, followed by the questions, grief, and despair of Saturday, and then the redemptive healing of Sunday.

We can talk about being bold and bright. We can talk about believing that we are worthy and that our worth comes from grace. We can talk about living brave and stepping into the arena. We can talk about all those things, and all those things are fine and well, but when you find yourself stuck in Saturday, when you’re in The Middle, that stuff doesn’t really matter.

I agree with Philip Yancey that the pattern of tragedy, darkness, triumph is one that is found over and over in our lives. The Fridays are so painful and the Sundays are so joyful. It seems over our entire life we cycle thru this three-stage period, but sometimes it seems like we spend a lot of our time in Saturday.

Years ago, I found myself in a prolonged Saturday. My life had slowly been tumbling downward until January 2000 when everything crashed. Over the course of 10 days my entire life changed… I withdrew from grad school, moved home, made a decision to leave my life in music, ended an almost four year relationship that left me lost and broken, and enrolled in a new university. The next 12 months were my Middle… they were my Saturday… and they were bleak. I was depressed; I was anxious. I rarely went out with friends. I stayed in my apartment, thought, and watched old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and Dallas.

I wrestled with God in a way that I had never done before. I went from being angry- very angry- and wondering where He had been over the past four years and why He hadn’t stopped this out-of-control-train-of-chaos that had become my life. I wondered how He could pay me back like this for those years of faithful church attendance, praying, and living a life that was above the norm.

Then after some months of being angry and realizing that was getting me nowhere, I realized that God had not necessarily abandoned me, but baby step by baby step I had abandoned Him. I had ignored the red flags. I had refused the help. I kept pushing against a brick wall wondering why it wouldn’t move and then getting mad that I was battered, bruised, and tired.

It was during this period that it was hard for me to be with God. I felt that I had ruined everything. The relationship was damaged beyond repair. You can only ask so much of God, right? And then He eventually throws His hands up in frustration, right? And then He takes everything away, right? It’s the twisted version of the parable of the talents.

All I wanted during this time was to be free. I did not know what freedom looked like, and a large part of me believed I would always be damaged, but there had to be some sort of freedom from this Middle.

One Sunday morning in August, I was standing in church and a song came across the screen:

You are beautiful beyond description Too marvelous for words Too wonderful of comprehension Like nothing ever seen or heard Who can grasp you infinite wisdom Who can fathom the depth of your love You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty enthroned above




And I stand, I stand in awe of you I stand, I stand in awe of you Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you.

And when I started to sing the words of the chorus, I just stopped. It was like someone was squeezing my throat and I couldn’t sing. I stood there, hung my head, and started to cry. All I could think was, “I am not in awe of you right now. I’m not. I’m hurt and angry and broken and I just want this pain to stop.”

We go through phases with God during the Saturdays of our lives. We wonder where He is. We rail against Him. We shake our fist and blame Him for our plight. Or we blame ourselves. We don’t feel good enough to come to Him. We don’t know how to come to Him because we don’t know what to say.

What we discover, though, when we get to the other side is that Saturday, The Middle, changes us. There is no going back…thankfully. There is only moving forward.

I drove home from church that day numb not really knowing what to do or where to go from there. As I drove home I had the strangest feeling that I was not alone.   And later I realized that I was not the only one crying that Sunday morning.

In the Gospel of John, we read that shortly before the Crucifixion Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was sick. He made his way to the home of his dear friends, Mary and Martha, where he learned that Lazarus had died four days prior. Mary and Martha were grieving; others in the town were grieving. Jesus knew what was going to happen. Jesus knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life. He knew the end of the story. Yet we have that most famous, shortest verse of Scripture: Jesus wept.

Jesus wept, not over the top, demonstrative tears, but the translation says silent tears as he saw his dear friends sadness and grief. This image tells us we have a God who loves us to the point that He aches for us. It’s like a parent who sees their child sad and brokenhearted but knows that there will be another tryout, another boyfriend, another opportunity. But their heart aches because their child’s heart aches regardless of the fact they know this disappointment is temporary. God’s love for us is similar… times a thousand.

I think God weeps with us. I do not think He sits idly by, unemotional, untouched. I think His heart breaks when we feel we can’t come to Him, for whatever reason, and we want to. I think His heart breaks when we mourn and grieve even though He knows the rest of the story. And I think on that sunny August morn, God wept with me.

I take great comfort in that thought… that I was not alone that day or in those months and years. I was not alone that Sunday in August, but yet not fully able to take hold of that which was being offered. That would come a few months later. The redemptive healing of my Sunday came one October morning when I finally surrendered and let my old self die so that my new self could be born.

I learned in the months and years later that I had not damaged by relationship with God. I had not pushed Him so far away that He never wanted to come back. He had never left me in the first place. I was not broken beyond repair.

I realized that no matter how long your Saturday may seem the redemption and restoration and resurrection of Sunday always comes. You are never left. You are never alone. That is the promise and the hope of Sunday.

Have a blessed Easter, friends.

Is It Safe? (Six Characteristics of Emotionally Unsafe Relationships)

“Sweetheart, that’s not safe. Be careful. You might hurt yourself.” I, along with countless other parents, have said many variations of the above statement. As a parent, one of your main jobs is to keep your little one safe. You point out the things that may be a danger- the sharp edges, the deep holes, the hot surfaces. Sometimes kids instinctively know what is safe and what is not safe, but often they have to be taught either from their own life experience (yep, the stove is hot) or from someone who has already walked the path. That is how children learn what is safe.

Adults aren’t much different. Only in adulthood, hot stoves and riding too fast on our bikes aren’t the only causes for concern. Relationships can be the real danger lurking around the corner, and they can do all sorts of damage to our hearts and minds. In adulthood, are hearts can be as easily broken as our wrists and ankles. To heal our hearts and to protect them, we need to know what is emotionally safe and unsafe. It seems like this would be common sense, but in reality it can be very difficult to know what is safe and unsafe behavior in a relationship. Love has a funny way of disguising the unsafe people in our lives. So we end up wondering Is this normal? and staying way too long in drama filled relationships only to find our hearts tattered and our voices silenced.

Do you know what makes a relationship emotionally unsafe?  Do you know when you are in an emotionally unsafe relationship? If you find yourself feeling that you’ve lost your sense of self, are always walking on eggshells, or wondering if a relationship is supposed to be this stressful, then chances are you are not experiencing the safety and security you need and deserve in your relationship. Here are six characteristics I have observed in my years as a therapist that create an unsafe environment in a relationship.

  1. “Me?? What about you?”- Defensiveness

We all get defensive, but defensiveness in a relationship blocks any vulnerable communication. It is difficult to share anything with someone who reacts defensively. Such a reaction immediately changes the course of the conversation. Defensive people need to be right, which also creates a power struggle in the relationship. If the defensive person needs to be right, then you are wrong… you are always wrong. This is so dangerous to our sense of self because it leads to doubting our own thoughts and feelings. We lost touch with our intuition and gut. When we have been in relationship with a defensive person too long, we eventually stop speaking up and are riddled with self doubt.

  1. “You think your day was bad. My day was much worse!” Lack of empathy/always making it about them

It is hard to feel emotionally safe enough to be vulnerable in a relationship if the other person is always making it about them. This can occur in a variety of way- the person doesn’t give empathy but instead one-ups your experience, he takes on your emotion and makes your experience about him, she always focuses on her life without learning and knowing more about you. For example, let’s say you try to share something that is going on with you- you’re feeling sad, you’re frustrated with work- and then your loved one may talk about how much worse his situation is than yours OR he may become annoyed with your emotional expression. This type of pattern of communication leaves little room for sharing and vulnerability. When you are on the receiving end of this dance, it can feel like there is no room for your feelings or experiences because it always comes back to the other person. Overtime, we share less and less of ourselves because we are afraid what we say 1.) is going to be dismissed, 2.) is going to be twisted, or 3.) it is once again going to be about the other person.

  1. “You didn’t ask so I didn’t think I needed to tell you the whole story.”- Dishonesty

Unsafe people in relationships often don’t see the danger in dishonesty/half truths. They may say they didn’t tell you because they were trying to protect you or didn’t want to make you mad. And then when the truth is revealed, they will often minimize the event writing it off as “no big deal” or “you’re overreacting which is why I didn’t want to tell you in the first place.” These types of rationalizations for dishonesty are highly controlling and manipulative, and they put you back in the position of feeling you are wrong for being upset that the person you care about withheld information from you.

  1. “I apologized! What more do you want?”- Apologizing without action to back it up

Apologies are important but meaningless if they aren’t backed up with a change in behavior. An unsafe person may apologize but they will be reluctant to follow through with changing the behavior that caused the hurt in the first place. A healthy apology is one in which the wrongdoer acknowledges her actions, how her actions impacted you, and follows that up with committed behavior change. This sustained (that is a key word… one week is not sustained, by the way) change in behavior shows there is true recognition of the harm done. It is the changed behavior that rebuilds the trust that was broken.

  1. “You should trust me!”- Demanding trust rather than earning it

Where there is drama and unsafety in a relationship, you are also going to find broken trust. The two just seem to go together. In repairing a relationship, you must repair the trust, but trust CAN ONLY be repaired with time. An apology is a step towards repairing trust but it does not/should not completely restore trust. Feeling entitled to someone’s trust is an indicator that the person is not willing to do the long, hard work to rebuild trust. If entitled trust is an issue in your relationship, ask yourself shouldn’t the person who is demanding your trust be more concerned about why there is a lack of trust (in other words, why you feel unsafe around them) rather than immediately wanting your trust back.

6. “If you weren’t the way you are, I wouldn’t act this way!”- Holding others responsible for thoughts, feelings, actions

Unsafe people often do not take responsibility for themselves. Instead, they blame others for their feelings, thoughts, and actions. If you would just do this or that, THEN I wouldn’t get angry, have to have a drink, etc. When the unsafe person blames you for their actions, this creates yet another cycle of guilt and manipulation. Over time you begin to believe that the other person’s anger, drinking, feelings, etc. are your fault in some way, and if you just do this or don’t say that, then everything will be okay. You begin to feel responsible for the other person’s emotions and you work harder and harder to keep the peace. This pattern is the ultimate control and manipulation tool. It is how you find yourself walking on eggshells no longer knowing who you really are.

See, that’s the dangerous thing about an emotionally unsafe relationship. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, it’s hurtful. But the long term danger is that you lose you. You lose your voice. You lose sense of your needs, likes, dislikes. The relationship, and trying to keep the peace, trying to be who the other person finds acceptable so that you can win his/her approval, buries your true self.

On the other hand, emotionally safe relationships invite us to be all that we were created to be. They are equal and reciprocal in terms of their love and care for one another. Vulnerability is a strength rather than a liability. In an emotionally safe relationship, you feel known and seen… you feel it is safe to be known and seen rather than thinking you need to be someone else.

It is so easy to stumble into an unsafe relationship. Many of us have done it. Like we said earlier, love blinds us. Love blinds us because we innately want to love and be loved. And that is a good thing! It is a good thing to want love in your life. But inviting love into your life at the cost of your own self and voice is a dangerous exchange.  Like hot stoves when we were little, we end up learning about unsafe relationships either through experience or trusting someone who can see more than we can.

If you find yourself wondering Is this normal? Is this right? or wondering if there is something wrong with you, you deserve to start rediscovering who you really are separate from whom your relationship has convinced you that you are. You deserve to share your story and let someone come alongside you to speak truth and love into you life. You deserve a safe, reciprocal, life-giving relationship.  You deserve healthy love.

The Truth About Pain

Sometimes when I scan my bookshelves I have to chuckle because I’m rather sure Amazon must think I am a pretty troubled soul.  My bookshelves and my Amazon Wish List are filled with titles about loss, disappointment, and pain.  I suppose it is a liability of my profession, but even before I became a therapist, I was drawn to reading and understanding how we deal with and overcome pain in our lives.  I realized a couple of years ago that I think one of the reasons I keep reading about the darker side of life is that I keep searching for new answers.  I think deep down I’m holding out hope that maybe someone has found a new take on heartache or new research that shows how we can avoid pain or make pain stop once it starts.  I think I secretly hope that when I click on those articles on Yahoo that promise 5 Easy Steps to Let Go of Resentment and Disappointment that there really will be five easy steps that I haven’t heard before. Sadly, that is never the case.

Several years ago, though, I did read something that changed how I saw pain and the purpose of pain in our lives.  Yes, I said the purpose of pain.

In Philip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts, he talks about the work of Dr. Paul Brand. Dr. Brand worked primarily with leprosy patients.  Probably like most people, my understanding of leprosy has been shaped by what I learned in Sunday School as a child.  In my mind, leprosy was this horrible skin disease from back in “Jesus times”, and lepers had scabby skin, open wounds, and had to shout “Unclean, unclean” if anyone came near.

I was surprised to learn that leprosy is not a skin disease.  Leprosy affects the nervous system, and it takes away a person’s ability to feel pain.  It makes a person completely numb to pain.  Consequently, when they injure themselves they may not realize how significant the injury, which leads to further harm, infections, gaping wounds, and eventual lost limbs.

Their inability to feel pain actually makes their life and health worse.

Interesting.

To aid his patients, Dr. Brand and his engineers developed a type of glove with sensors that signaled a warning when the patient was unknowingly hurting himself.  Initially the signal was a loud alarm, but Dr. Brand found that despite the loud noise signaling the patients to stop what they were doing, they would continue in their activity even though they knew they were hurting themselves.

Dr. Brand then tried using a flashing light and eventually resorted to using a slight electric shock to get the patients to stop their unintentionally self destructive behavior.  He discovered, though, that patients started switching off the shock feature when they really wanted to do something that they knew would trigger the warning.  Self-will proved stronger than self-care.  He eventually gave up on the project because it proved too costly and completely ineffective.

Philip Yancey said in conclusion, “By definition, pain is unpleasant, enough so to force us to withdraw our fingers from a stove.  Yet that very quality saves us from destruction.  Unless the warning signal demands response, we might not heed it.

Pain forces us to stop.  Pain forces us to listen.

Physical pain is the body’s alarm system. If you sprain your ankle running, pain tells you something wrong has occurred and gets you to pay attention to the wounded area so you don’t keep hurting yourself.  Pain tells us something very important.  It tells us that something has happened and that something is wrong.

Emotional pain is our heart’s alarm system telling us something is wrong and that something has (or has not) happened.  Heartache and disappointment, the forms of pain we wish to avoid most in life, force us to stop and re-evaluate.   Emotional pain signals to us that we need to do something differently.  Maybe the signal is telling us to try something new.  Maybe it’s telling us to pause and wait for more information.  Maybe it’s telling us to move on entirely.

Pain can serve a purpose.  Sadness, disappointment, discouragement can serve a purpose.  These difficult experiences force us to pay attention and to re-evaluate our actions, our choices, and our decisions.

Pain is the siren of our heart and the validator of our life experience.  It signals when something has happened and it validates that, yes, it was a big deal.  Pain says Stop. Mourn. Grieve. Rage. Weap.  What happened to you mattered.  What is happening IS a big deal.  Don’t minimize it.  Don’t brush it under the rug.  Don’t numb it.  Don’t avoid it.

Without pain- without heartbreak, loneliness, disappointment- we sometimes would not know when to stop and we may end up doing ourselves more harm.  We wouldn’t know when to get out of the relationship.  We wouldn’t know when to leave the job.  We wouldn’t know when to say no and set boundaries.  Pain can actually be a great teacher and instigator of change, if we let it.  Yes, we may convince ourselves that numbing, ignoring, and avoiding are the better options, but they are not.  Being emotionally numb does not lead to NOT being hurt; it just leads to NOT knowing when the hurt is being done.

But pain is never pleasant.  As much as I have read and heard “Rejoice in your suffering,” that is often a hard pill for me to swallow because pain hurts, and my survival instinct says avoid pain, numb pain, reject pain.  My survival instinct says all those things, but the seeds of truth and wisdom that try to take root in my mind remind me that pain can have meaning, it is not eternal, and every wound can be bound up and healed.

What is the truth about pain?  The truth about pain is that it always hurts and it is never comfortable, but pain can tell us something.  It can tell us something we need to hear and that just might save us from our own destruction.

What is your pain telling you today? What has your pain told you in the past? How can you embrace your heartache so that it shapes your life rather than stops your life?

Ungrateful

We’ve eaten turkey, we’ve said our thanks, and now we are headed full force into the Christmas season. November seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye, and it’s hard to believe Christmas is less than a month away.  Although Thanksgiving struggles not to be engulfed by the ever extending Christmas season, I like that both of these holidays mark a period of intentional gratitude. Gratitude.  Great thinkers, philosophers, researchers,  and spiritual leaders alike will tell you that the key to peace and joy in your life is a practice of gratitude.  It makes sense… if we spend time pondering what we are grateful for, it cultivates contentment rather than discontentment, and we are less likely to ruminate over life’s shortcomings.  It is an obvious and practical life lesson.  Recently, I started keeping a gratitude journal, and I am sincerely amazed at the difference in my spirit after I sit and write for a few minutes.  This gratitude stuff is no joke.

But let’s be honest.  Sometimes- often times- we aren’t that successful in maintaining a practice of gratitude.  The annual holiday marker of intentional thankfulness comes and goes.  We make resolutions about how we are going to practice more gratitude and concentrate on all we do have rather than focusing on what we we don’t have.  We know having a thankful spirit is good for the soul, and what is good for the soul is good for the body.  We know this.  But let’s be honest… sometimes our ingratitude swallows any sliver of gratitude.

Are you ungrateful?

What are you not grateful for?

What are the memories in your life that you wish you could squeeze your eyes shut and make go away?  Who are the people in your life that you wish you could snap your fingers and they would vanish?  What are the experiences in your life that make you want to shake your fist and cry out in sadness and despair, “Why, God?  Why?”

Sometimes it’s hard to feel grateful, and I don’t think that is necessarily a shortcoming on our part.  I think it’s because sometimes life is unfair and difficult.

A few years ago, my little family was going through a particularly difficult season with no end in sight.  I remember feeling as if there was a battle going on inside my mind as I tried to practice gratitude for all we did have while at the same time wanting to scream, “Someone take this cup from me!  I do not want it and I did not ask for it!”  I became exhausted by the clash of voices.  Then a third voice entered the frey which told me that life wasn’t so bad and a lot of people have it worse and what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just be grateful.  Why couldn’t I just be grateful?  The guilt I felt over my seeming ingratitude felt more oppressive than the trying circumstances I was facing. I felt painfully stuck.

Gratitude is the pathway to joy, indeed.  But comparative suffering and self shaming are not the pathways to gratitude.  Shaming yourself into gratitude is not healing.  Using gratitude to silence and bypass your sincere grief and pain is not helpful.  Sometimes- often times- the healthiest thing we can do is to admit I’m unthankful for this.  I don’t want this.

Yes, we are called to be grateful, and, yes, gratitude fosters contentment and joy.  But we cannot use gratitude as a tool to silence our despair.  That is not the purpose of gratitude.  Admitting you are not thankful for the diagnosis, the unemployment, the loss, the failed relationship is the first step in surrendering those burdens you were never intended to solely bear.  You cannot surrender something you insist upon denying exists.    It is important to acknowledge and speak your sadness and anger because it is only then that you can let go of them.  It is only then that you can be free of them.  It is only then you can cultivate true and honest gratitude.  We can feel grateful for the healing and still not feel grateful for the hurt.

During this holiday season you may have so much to be grateful for, but you also may have some true heartache that occupies every thought and moment.  What are you ungrateful for today?  What life event are you unthankful for?  Silenced hurt metastasizes; shared hurt heals.  Speak the heartache.  Surrendering your hurt by admitting and sharing it with someone begins the healing process and opens the door to freedom and thanksgiving.

Having trouble feeling grateful?  Ask yourself, “What do I need to surrender?”  What do you need to acknowledge today so that healing can begin? 

Gumball Lessons: Learning to Embrace the Good and Bad in Your Story

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking on the power of embracing our story.  What does it mean to embrace our story?  What are the obstacles we face in trying to embrace our story? Embracing your story means that you understand how the twists and turns, the expected and unexpected, the good and the bad work together to create your unique purpose and life direction.  To embrace your story, you have to face your story.  Facing your story means dealing with the tough parts rather than trying to deny or ignore them.

But what if you don’t want to deal with the past?  What if you don’t know how to deal with the past?  How do you make sense of the past when there have been so many ups and downs? 

How do we wrap our minds around this thing called life that can be so breathtakingly beautiful and heart wrenchingly painful?

I think this dilemma is one of the biggest obstacles we face in embracing our story.  We run from the past because we don’t know how to reconcile the good and bad.  We don’t know how to hold onto the good and still call out and address the bad.

Maybe most of your story is really good- good friends, good life experiences, good memories- but there are a couple of chapters, or maybe even some characters, that have been really difficult.  These chapters or characters have created some true hurt in your life.  You don’t know how to include them in your story because you feel if you spend time talking about those painful scenes then you are discounting, or aren’t grateful for, all the good in your life.  And so you ignore or deny the impact of the chaotic home life, the addicted loved one, or the neglectful parent because you simply do not know how to reconcile the good and the bad.

Or maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum.  Life has been very hard.  From start to present, life has been one challenge after another.  And because life has beaten you up so, it is hard to hold on to the good.  It is hard to let yourself feel excitement and joy.  It is hard to believe that joy and good things really do, and will, happen to you.  So you live ever protective of your battered heart, constantly preparing for the worst and never letting yourself rest in joy.  It’s the same problem. You don’t know how to reconcile the good and the bad.  You don’t know how to hold them both.

The challenge in life is learning to accept the good and bad and give them each the credit they are due and the healing they deserve.  We must learn to hold the prickly and the smooth parts of life.  We must learn that sometimes life is like holding two gumballs.

This gumball is smooth, full of color, and if you bit into it, it would be sweet.

IMG_2784

This gumball is prickly and lackluster in color.

IMG_2783

Both are round. Both are gumballs.  But they are very different experiences. The sweetness of the one gumball does not cancel out the prickliness of the other.

Life is colorful and smooth and sometimes very sweet.  Life is also prickly and dark and a pain to deal with.

Sometimes, out of self-protection, we want our lives to be either all good or all bad because the back and forth, up and down can feel exhausting.  We want to know what we can count on because we want to feel in control of our fate.  So we decide that life is going to be all good, and we force a smile to hide any bad.  Or we decided that life is going to be all bad, and we lash out or reject anything that tries to convince us otherwise.

We struggle to embrace our stories when we want them to always make sense, follow a pattern, and not have any unexpected plot developments.  We struggle to embrace our story when we only want to hold onto one gumball.

The challenge is to learn to hold them both.

IMG_2786

The painful and difficult and negative events of your life do not cancel out all the good in your life.  Equally, the good in your life does not wash over and erase the hurts, abuse, or loss you have experienced.  Just because you’ve tasted the sweetness of life, does not mean you can’t still call out the bad.  Just because you know the prickliness of life, does not mean that is all there is to life.

It takes courage to have joy and hope, and it takes courage to grieve.  It takes courage to hold both gumballs.  Embracing your story means you accept the hard, prickly incidences just as you accept the sweet, colorful ones.  You accept that both experiences contribute to your unique story and life calling.  You learn to hold them both.

Do you struggle to reconcile the good and bad in your story? Does it ever feel like the bad overshadows the good in your life?  Do you stay quiet about the dark moments because you are afraid they will tarnish the bright ones?  Take the courageous step and start giving voice to all the parts of your unique and powerful story.

 

 

Stubbed Toes, Stubbed Hearts

We’ve all been there.  Maybe it’s the middle of the night or the middle of broad daylight.  You’re walking along minding your own business following a path you have taken a thousand times.  You’ve walked in and out of this room and around this furniture at least a dozen times that day already.  But this time you cut the corner a little too close and… BAM! You stub your toe.

Pain instantly starts coursing through your toe, up your leg, and across your body.  You simultaneously suck air through your teeth, howl, and unleash a torrent of choice words.  You wonder why anyone would be so foolish as to put a dresser in that location.  You wonder if the offending dresser has perhaps taken a life of its own and turned against you in reaction to not being dusted lately.

Yep, we’ve all been there.  Think for a moment about what you do right after you stub your toe.  What is your natural physical reaction?  For most people, they will instantly bend down and try to cover the injured piggy with their hand as if they are trying to protect it in case the corner of the dresser decides to strike out in anger again.  You hide the injured toe under the shadow of our palm as if the slightest breeze or sliver of light might do more damage and increase the pain.  You cup the toe protecting it from further harm.

You hide the injury.

You protect the hurt.

Toes aren’t much different from hearts.  We’re traveling along a path that is well known.  We’re content in a job we’ve had for years.  We’re satisfied in a relationship we’ve been in for decades.  We’re living life, minding our own business, and then BAM!

We stub our heart.  A stubbed heart can bring the strongest soul to his knees.  The hit comes out of nowhere.  We wonder how things all of the sudden changed.  The hurt and anguish moves through our body, taking our energy, our sense of safety, our joy, and it leaves us with anxiety, insomnia, and unanswered questions.  A stubbed heart throbs with pain.

Much like that stubbed toe, our natural inclination is to protect our stubbed heart.  We want to hide and cover the heart wound.  We don’t want to let anyone see.  When we have experienced loss or heartbreak of any kind, we naturally react by withdrawing and isolating.  It is too painful to rehash the events.  It takes too much energy to put words to the disappointment.  No one may understand why our feelings have been so hurt and by trying to explain we might end up being more hurt.  We hide our stubbed heart under the shadow of our silence and retreat.

The only way to assess the hurt done to that stubbed toe is by removing the protecting hand and letting light shine on it.  Then you can see the extent of the damage.  Then you can see where the toe was hit.  You can see what needs to be done to fix and heal your injured toe.

The same can be said for our stubbed hearts.  The only way we can begin to heal our broken hearts is by allowing the hurt to come out of hiding.  We move out of our isolation and our silence, and we let light shine on the heart wound.  We talk about what happened.  We let others see the injury and come alongside us to offer support and empathy.  We let light shine on our stubbed hearts because then we can see where and how we were hurt and what we need to do to heal and repair that emotional wound.

When you experience hurt, loss, grief, or disappointment, it is so easy to retreat into yourself and keep all of that inside.  You tell yourself no one will understand or you don’t want to be a burden or some other self-defeating reason for why you should stay silent.  Pain and heartache will happen in life- it is the most unfortunate guarantee in life.  There is no amount of careful stepping that will protect you from loss and hurt.  But coming out of hiding, letting light shine on your loss, and talking about your hurt will diminish that pain.  Your stubbed heart may be throbbing today but removing that covering of silence and isolation will place you on the path to healing.

Has your heart been stubbed lately?  What would it look like to uncover that wound and let light and openness begin to heal it?

Repairing Broken Trust (Part 2)

Last week we began discussing the impact of broken trust in our lives and relationships.  Broken trust is incredibly hurtful.  It rocks the foundation of a relationship and can leave you wondering what was real.  Knowing how or when to trust someone again can be tricky business.  Often, we get caught either wanting to trust too soon, so as to move on from the painful event and silence our own heartache, or living behind the multiple walls we have built out of self defense.  Both options often lead to continued heartbreak and sadness. So all of that begs the question:  How do you know when to trust someone again?  How do you know when it is emotionally safe to re-enter the relationship or to begin a new relationship?  How do you repair broken trust?  Here are five factors to consider when repairing broken trust:

 

How does he function in other areas of his life?  Who are his friends?  What does his previous behavior tell you about the possibilities for the future?  One of life’s greatest truths is: past behavior is the greatest predictor of future behavior.  That being said, is he addressing his previous behavior?

 

After trust has been broken, both individuals understand the relationship is going to be different moving forward.  This isn’t “let’s go back to the way things were.”  Rather it is “let’s start a new chapter and learn from the previous mistakes.”  The person who broke trust needs to understand the ripple effect of her actions and wants to change her behavior.  At the same time, you (the person whose trust was broken) need to understand that you cannot move forward unless you peel back the layers and deal with your own emotional wounds.  A repaired relationship cannot heal a broken heart, but a healed heart can help repair a relationship.

 

When you try to share what you have been through, a trustworthy person will not only stop to listen, but he will genuinely care about the ripple effect of his actions and respond accordingly. It is hard to trust someone if whenever you bring up what happened he responds defensively by either redirecting the focus to you (Well, you…) or blaming someone else.

“Desiring and, ultimately, requiring that someone be concerned about his or her impact on you is not a matter of self-absorption or ‘it’s all about me.’  It is your responsibility and evidence of self-stewardship.  You only have one heart, and that heart is the core of you.  If you repeatedly subject it to bad treatment, constantly have to protect yourself, or realize you are the only one in the relationship who is concerned about you, you are not taking good care of that heart.”        -       John Townsend, Beyond Boundaries

 

Remember, we said that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  It is for that reason that there must be noticeable and sustainable behavior change.  If there is no behavior change, it is impossible for you to have realistic hope that the relationship will ever be different.

“When the person changes behavior, but you see no evidence that the change is due to a heart-level understanding of how the person impacted you, most likely what you are seeing is compliance.  You are not seeing transformation.  Compliance is about getting caught and not wanting to get caught again.  It does not develop trust.”      - John Townsend, Beyond Boundaries

 

Rome was not built in a day and neither is trust.  Whether we are learning to trust someone for the first time or we are trying to repair broken trust, building true trust takes time.  Remember our quote from last week:  “Love is free, trust is earned.”  If you are willing to quickly trust again, then it may indicate that you are trying to avoid healing.  If the other person is pushing you to quickly trust her again, then it may indicate she is trying to avoid changing.    The work of healing and repair is a marathon, not a race.  There are no extra points for fastest time.

Trust can be repaired, and hearts and relationships can be healed.  It takes work and time, and the hurt you may be feeling today will not last forever.  As you work to heal your heart, you may feel confident you can trust this person again or you may feel less certain about the future of your relationship.  Whether you stay in the relationship or decide to go, you have to let go… let go of the hurt, let go of the old patterns, let go of the broken relationship.  You have to let go so you can be free and enter into this next relationship chapter healed and untethered by the past.   Your heart longs for and deserves that free.

What hurt do you need to heal and begin letting go of today in order to free your heart?  What have you learned about yourself during your healing process?  What behavior change do you need to see from the other person in order to begin trusting him again?

 

Townsend, John, Ph.D. (2011).  Beyond Boundaries: Learning to trust again in relationships.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Repairing Broken Trust (Part 1)

Do you remember the famous Charlie Brown and Lucy storyline that involved the football?  Lucy tells Charlie Brown she will hold the football while he kicks it.  Because of previous attempts at this game, Charlie Brown is suspicious and doesn’t trust that she will actually hold the ball.  Lucy tells him that this time it will be different.  Charlie Brown, ever hopeful that maybe this time Lucy is telling the truth, runs as fast as he can to kick the ball, and sure enough Lucy moves the ball just as he is about to kick.  Poor Charlie Brown ends up flat on his back deceived again.

Did you ever read the comic strip or watch the Charlie Brown specials and think, “Don’t do it, Charlie Brown!  Don’t do it!  Don’t trust her- she’s up to her same old tricks!”  Charlie Brown wants to trust Lucy and what she is saying this time around.  He wants to believe that things are, and will be, different.

Have you ever been Charlie Brown?

Trust is a funny thing.  For the most part, we want to trust people.  We want to believe people.  Trusting someone allows us to feel safe.  Even the most untrusting of us started out with a trusting spirit.  Just as we want to love and be loved, we want to trust and be trusted.

Have you ever had someone break your trust?  I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t.  How does this very common rupture in relationships occur?  Broken trust occurs when someone acts the opposite of how you assumed/hoped/expected he/she would act or when he/she goes against the spoken or unspoken “agreement” in the relationship.  Lucy said she would hold the football, and she didn’t.  You expected your relationship would be safe from wandering eyes and hearts, but it wasn’t.  You hoped your loved one would stop his self destructive, addictive behavior, but he hasn’t.  You assumed your friend would never betray you, but she did.

Our deepest hurts are often caused by those we trust the most.  It isn’t part of the plan for that relationship.  That’s why it hurts so much.  It is unexpected.  We didn’t think that person could do this to us.  A spouse.  A parent.  A best friend.  Sometimes it is hard for us to admit that trust has been broken and this person is no longer trustworthy because it shatters our image of that person.  This, in of itself, can be devastating.  Sometimes we may even try to convince ourselves to overlook broken trust because it may feel easier to just move forward than stay in the present and heal the wound and repair the brokenness in the relationship.

However, we cannot ignore someone’s untrustworthy behavior.  To do so is like running when you have shin splints.  Yes, you can run through the pain and eventually you won’t feel it anymore, but you are doing damage to your body.  Eventually, you will have to stop and take the appropriate steps to heal your body.

We can keep trying to ignore broken trust and the emotional wounds it leaves in its wake, but eventually we will just become emotionally numb.  Just because we stop feeling does not mean our hearts aren’t breaking.

How do you repair broken trust in a relationship?  How do you learn to trust again?  Rebuilding trust in a relationship takes two people… two people working on themselves, fixing the areas that need fixing, healing the wounds that need healing, and strengthening the emotional and communication muscles that need strengthening.  It takes BOTH people working, growing, and changing to rebuild and repair trust.

But wait a minute, you might be thinking, I did not deceive this person…I did not break our agreement.  No, you did not, but we cannot successfully repair a relationship, or enter into a new one, unless old patterns change and deep wounds heal.

We cannot expect the other person to heal us.  That is our job.

But earning trust?  That is the other person’s job.

John Townsend in BeyondBoundariessays, “Love is free, trust is earned.”   I absolutely love that and I think it is so true.  We give our love freely.  Love does not fall on a grading scale.  But trust… trust is different.  Trust is earned.  We trust those with our hearts who have shown themselves worthy of our trust.

As you work to heal your heart, you have to simultaneously discern if it is safe to trust again.  How do you know someone is trustworthy?  How do you know if the relationship can be saved?  How do you know when you are ready to enter into a new relationship?  Trust is an integral part of any relationship.  You cannot have true connection without trust.  This is part one of our discussion on repairing trust.  I hope you will join me for part two when I will discuss five key factors to consider when learning to trust someone again.

Healing takes times and rebuilding does take work, but your heart can be made whole and you can have a healthy, loving, trusting relationship.

When has your trust been broken?  What was that like for you?  How has broken trust in a relationship impacted you and your life?